Mars Trek: The Google Earth of Mars


With all the actualities going on about Mars – too bad none of you writing about it – I would like to share this amazing piece of software and technology with you.

But first, let us recap on the news around Mars. Only 13 days ago, NASA came up with the exciting news that evidence of flowing (!) water has been discovered on the surface. Tracks of hydrated salty streaks have been found on the slopes of the planet. This means that in Martian summers, salt water might be flowing on these slopes. This discovery greatly enhances the possibility of the existence of microbial life on Mars.

Scene from 'The Martian'

Scene from ‘The Martian’

This discovery coincidentally emerged at the same time with the movie ‘The Martian’. For who is unfamiliar with the movie, it is a sci-fi starring Matt Damon surviving on Mars. The thing is, the producers of the movie use current and near-future technologies, which is backed up with real science. The movie therefore enthuses people into real science.

Mars Trek
Using real data from 50 years of Mars exploration, NASA launched a new web app: Mars Trek. Thanks to the Mars Reconnaissance satellites, the surface of Mars has now been mapped out. This web app could be considered the Mars equivalent to the well-known Google Earth. Mars Trek is developed for Mars mission leaders and scientists, as well as for the public. It allows us to explore the Martian surface, a place which is on average 225 million km away from Earth. This is another step of NASA to involve the public in the progress of space and planet exploration (unfortunately, no Mars Street View exists).

The app contains interactive maps, which shows data of specific places, just as Google Earth. Furthermore, filters have been added to see the surface as from the eyes of the satellites’ instruments. For instance, this enables us to see topographical details or obtain surface composition data of the Gale crater. Even more astonishing, Mars Trek provides downloadable STL files of some places that one can use to print out 3D-models of those places. In other words, we can now print replicas of actual craters of the planet.

With Mars Trek, it is even possible to follow the 3,000 km path fictional astronaut Matt Damon travelled in ‘The Martian’. We can start in Acidalia Planitia, travel over the dry planes and end in the Schiaparelli crater. Only difference is, we can do this safely from our desks.

'The Martian' track in Mars Trek

‘The Martian’ path in Mars Trek

My point is, our technology enables us to prepare us for the future. As Brian Day, Mars Trek’s project manager says: “In a couple of decades the first humans will set foot on Mars, but right now we all have the capability of exploring the surface of Mars and preparing for this great adventure”.


References:

IFLScience, (2015). NASA: Streaks Of Salt On Mars Mean Flowing Water, And Raise New Hopes Of Finding Life. [online] Available at: http://www.iflscience.com/space/nasa-streaks-salt-mars-mean-flowing-water-and-raise-new-hopes-finding-life [Accessed 11 Oct. 2015].

Jpl.nasa.gov, (2015). New Online Exploring Tools Bring NASA’s Journey to Mars to New Generation. [online] Available at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4680 [Accessed 11 Oct. 2015].

Marstrek.jpl.nasa.gov, (2015). Mars Trek. [online] Available at: http://marstrek.jpl.nasa.gov/# [Accessed 11 Oct. 2015].

Motherboard, (2015). ‘Mars Trek’ is Google Earth voor de rode planeet. [online] Available at: http://motherboard.vice.com/nl/read/mars-trek-is-google-earth-voor-de-rode-planeet [Accessed 11 Oct. 2015].

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